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Media in Yugoslavia

War landscape

The rising unrest in Yugoslavia went virtually unnoticed and was almost overshadowed by all major events in Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. From the perspective of the West, the country was regarded as relatively mild. The people had suffered deeply under the bloody Nazi terror and had resisted heroically. Tito had managed to keep the country outside the schism of the Cold War, thus making it accessible to the growing wave of tourists in the 1960s and 70s.
In Western Europe the multi-ethnic composition of the population was regarded not as a potential source of problems but as proof that the country was on the right track. Some leftist circles in Western Europe took interest in the Yugoslav practice of experiments with labour self-management. Many people in the West associated Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia Herzegovina with a dreamlike nostalgia. The course of events in the 1990s shattered their illusions.

In June 1991 Slovenia and Croatia declared independence. Slovenia achieved independence following a brief war against the Serb-dominated army of federal Yugoslavia. In March 1992 the civil war began in Bosnia Herzegovina. On 2 May 1992 Sarajevo became a battleground. Between 1992 and 1995 the world was confronted with a covert war by former Yugoslavia against Bosnia, a civil war within the war between Croats and Bosnian Muslims, a civil war inside the territory of Bosnia Herzegovina between Serbs on the one hand and the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina, comprising Croats and Bosnian Muslims, on the other hand. Bosnian Muslims represented the Federation of Bosnia Herzegovina throughout this period.
The war, which lasted three long years, ended in November 1995 with the Dayton Agreements. There was no winner. The country was torn apart and depleted and was placed under international auspices. Hundreds of thousands were killed, injured, and displaced.

Yugoslavia: A media landscape

In the 1980s the Yugoslav press gradually acquired greater freedom. Party newspapers started to publish points of view that deviated from the party line. The press organized geographically according to the republics that constituted Yugoslavia.
From 1990 the press expanded dramatically, although the state-supervised media remained in charge virtually everywhere in the former republics. In Croatia the state controlled most media through a fund that owned the shares of the privatized media. In Serbia some media were independent, but the state was dominant. This was especially true with respect to television, which according to a report was the main source of information for 69 percent of the Serbs. A 1992 survey thus revealed that over 38 percent of all Serbs believed that Muslim-Croatian army units were responsible for bombing Sarajevo. In 1991 Bosnia Herzegovina had no fewer than 377 newspapers, 54 local radio stations and 4 television stations.
Some of these media featured entertainment only, while others were very quick indeed to take sides during the wars. Many held the media largely responsible for the conflict by inciting ethnic hatred. Some allegations were very broad. Dubravka Ugresic, for example, asserted that the media started the war and blamed the war on all people willing to transmit warmongering ideas. This accusation appears logical based on hindsight, but nobody knew what lay ahead in 1988. Once the war had started, not choosing sides was difficult. The warring factions compelled the public to take a stand.
Nenad Pejic, programming director of TV Sarajevo, for example, related an incident from April 1992, when Bosnian Muslims threatened to blow up a dam in Visegrad and demanded to be interviewed live on television. Immediately after this threat Serb opponents phoned in, threatening to open fire on the television stations if this happened. After extensive deliberation, TV Sarajevo interviewed the occupiers of the dam. The Serbs promptly opened fire on the station. Pejic quickly fled to Germany to escape multiple death threats.
His case was not exceptional. The warring parties had little use for independent journalists. In 1993 the International Federation of Journalists reported that 20 journalists were missing and 13 killed in Bosnia Herzegovina.